Bangladesh in UN Peacekeeping: A Brief Commentary

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Bangladesh has earned a unique position in UN peacekeeping. To maintain world peace and security, the role of Bangladesh is lauded widely through UN peacekeeping. If one looks at history, Bangladesh deployed its first Peacekeeping troops in 1988, sending 15 military observers to participate in the Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIMOG). However, the participation of Bangladesh with a Brigade Group Force in ‘Operation Desert Shield’ in 1991 as part of Coalition Force to liberate Kuwait became the turning point for Bangladeshi peacekeepers. The professional expertise and the competence of Bangladeshi peacekeepers impressed the international community. Consequently, starting from a group of 15, Bangladesh has sent over 8,700 troops, police, and military experts to missions around the world, and is the Top Troop Contributing Country to Peacekeeping Operations.

Bangladeshi peacekeepers had participated from Afghanistan to Mali with reputation. In this regard, it is worthwhile to mention that International weekly ESCAPADE, in its cover story on September 5, 2003 reported that ‘Bangladesh Forces earned its reputation in Peace Support Operation not only for its striking ability and in maintaining peace, but also for its discipline and humanitarian services’.

The UN has awarded thousands of Bangladeshi peacekeepers for their distinguished service. Moreover, several host countries have recognized the contribution of Bangladeshi peacekeepers and taken symbolic steps to honour them. Between 1991 and 2002, the Sierra Leone faced huge internal civil war which devastated the country. In this context, the UN deployed peacekeeping force where Bangladeshi peacekeepers formed the largest part. Bangladeshi contingents were pioneers in taking control of the rebel-occupied territories. Soon after peace was restored in 2002, the country’s president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced that Bengali would henceforth be considered an honorary language of the Republic in recognition of the work done by Bangladeshi troops in restoring peace to the region. In addition, several schools were named ‘Sierra Leone-Bangladesh Friendship School’ in recognition to the contributions of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers.

Similarly, in recognition of the contributions made by Bangladeshi peacekeeping forces, a street in the Ivorian city of Danane was named as the ‘Bangladesh Road’. The name plaque of the road is written in French, English and, in Bangla.  Since Bangladeshi troops under the UN Peace Mission arrived in the city of Danane of Ivori Coast in 2004, Bangladesh Battalion-3 (Banbat-3) made huge impact among the local people.

In addition, three Bangladeshi battalions gained high regards all across Ivory Coast for carrying out their peacekeeping activities as well as humanitarian and social work beyond the UN mandate. Their activities covered patrolling, stationing check posts, making national identity cards, voter lists, helping conduct of public examinations, providing security to the airport of Yamoussoukro, and Daloa Airport and even security to the country’s important persons. In doing humanitarian services, the Bangladeshi troops provided free medical treatment daily or weekly or on additional basis to the local people. Treatments were provided to serious patients like those suffering from malaria. They also brought in Bangladeshi drugs and distributed them for free among the locals which created huge positive impressions about Bangladeshi peacekeepers. This write-up argues that it is a soft power for Bangladesh which needs to be promoted.

Bangladeshi peacekeepers demonstrated dedication, professionalism, and courage in the face of adversity. They have been working in collaboration with all stakeholders to save lives and help making tangible progress in bolstering peace and stability, socio-economic development in the conflict areas. In many cases, they have gone beyond the traditional way of peacekeeping, and used innovative means to engage meaningfully with local communities. Their steadfast and proactive roles have also prevented the relapse of conflicts and sustained peace.

However, it is ironic that while Bangladesh has been contributing to the establishment of peace and security in the farthest corners of the world, there is international conspiracy against Bangladeshi peacekeeping missions. In fact, Bangladesh is fully committed to professionalism in terms of the selection process for UN peacekeeping missions. Thus, any kind of conspiracy against Bangladesh peacekeeping missions needs to be countered carefully. In this case, the constructive role of the media, academia needs to be encouraged.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA, Dhaka). He is also an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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